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Why do 70 dead in Norway rank higher than tens of thousands in Somalia?

Sorry, I know that sounds a bit preachy.

But I’m sure I’m not the only one dismayed at how little urgent attention the world, and the media, is paying to the massive tragedy and loss of life in East Africa right now as compared to the deadly havoc created by the right-wing, Nordic hate-monger Anders Behring Breivik.

The tragedy in East Africa is getting covered, to some extent, but certainly to a lesser extent than than Norway’s bomber-gunman — and almost as if the tragedy in Somalia is just another, well, inevitable and largely unmanageable African crisis. This is wrong on a number of fronts.

I’m a Norwegian-American and have relatives in Oslo. So I’m maybe more interested in this episode than most — and perhaps less surprised given I’ve been aware of the festering problem of neo-Nazi nationalism that pervades much of Scandinavia today despite its deserved reputation for tolerance and liberality.

Breivik is top of Google News as I write this (closely followed by Amy Winehouse). Meanwhile, thousands of people are dying in Somalia and throughout East Africa right now, this very moment.

Ali and her son Hussein, fleeing Somalia

Why do we shrug our shoulders at one huge, ongoing cause of deaths and stare in fascination and horror at a much smaller and, arguably, somewhat unique and peculiar cause of death?

The BBC reports that, given what happened in Norway, the British intelligence service is reviewing if it is taking the threat of right-wing extremists seriously enough. That’s a good thing.

But why are so few talking about the national security threat posed by the massive destabilization of East Africa? As Jeremy Scahill of The Nation recently reported, alleging a secret CIA-run prison in Mogadishu, we clearly have national security and intelligence interests in Somalia and across East Africa.

In fact, I dare say that what happens in East Africa is probably even more important to our long-term interests than what happens in Norway. I mean, we don’t seem to think we need to run secret CIA prisons in Bergen or Oslo.

And the tragedy in East Africa is not really a “natural” disaster, as John Vidal recently wrote in The Guardian. It is, Vidal says, “an entirely predictable, man-made disaster.”

This is an entirely predictable, traditional, man-made disaster, with little new about it except the numbers of people on the move and perhaps the numbers of children dying near the cameras. The 10 million people who the governments warn are at risk of famine this year are the same 10 million who have clung on in the region through the last four droughts and were mostly being kept alive by feeding programs.

Certainly, Vidal acknowledges, one of the big drivers of this disaster is the ongoing warfare in the region. The extreme Islamist organization al-Shabaab, which is the defacto government of Somalia (and the reason for the alleged CIA presence there), has inexplicably refused to allow in many aid organizations. But as Vidal notes:

Just as in 2008, the war in Somalia is primarily responsible for the worst that is happening. As Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute says: “Wars don’t kill many people directly but can kill millions through the way they render them totally vulnerable to the kinds of problems they should be able to cope with.” In this case, he says, people have lost all their assets and can’t access grazing grounds they need.

But remember too, that Somalia has been made a war zone by the US-led “war on terror”. It’s our fault as much as anyone’s.




About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.